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Ohio's Democratic Governor Candidates Up In Arms Over Gun Control

Tony Dejak
Associated Press

The issue of guns and gun violence has energized some Republicans, such as Gov. John Kasich, but it’s sparked real interest among Democrats, whose views on guns can run the gamut.

Guns has become a big conversation point for the four major candidates in the Democratic race for governor, who will meet in their first debate together on Wednesday.

In a speech before the City Club of Cleveland, former mayor and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich spent a fair amount of time firing away at his opponent Richard Cordray, for defending a state law that superseded local gun laws when Cordray was attorney general in 2010. Kucinich said Cordray did that – in Kucinich’s words – to ingratiate himself with the gun lobby.

“As Attorney General, Mr. Cordray clearly made his office an extension of the NRA, even bragging to gun group that he seized the ‘opportunity’ to use the power of his office to represent their interests on assault weapons and all gun issues,” Kucinich said.

Kucinich said he supports the right of local communities who lost that case in 2010 and want to make their own gun laws, and he wants a statewide ban on assault-style weapons. He also wants to keep people with dangerous mental health issues from owning guns.

The attack isn’t going over well with Cordray, who didn’t blast back but stood his ground.

“I think that criticism is off base,” Cordray said. “The bottom line is that the state Attorney General has to defend state laws in the Ohio Supreme Court, and I did my job.”

Cordray grew up in rural Ohio, and was endorsed by the NRA when he ran for re-election in 2010, but Cordray says he hasn’t taken any money from the group. While he’s been described as a friend to gun groups such as the Buckeye Firearms Association, Cordray wouldn’t directly answer whether he’s a strong Second Amendment supporter.

“I think we always have to balance constitutional rights against the needs of society. That’s what the courts do in these cases and that’s what the courts will continue to do,” Cordray said. “And I think that’s what reasonable public officials have to do as well.”

Cordray said his comprehensive approach would be to appoint a gun violence prevention czar, work for increased school safety, and support further restrictions on background checks, targeting straw man purchases and banning bump stocks. Those last three are all similar to recommendations that Kasich proposed more than a week after Cordray did – and similar to some Democratic legislation already proposed in the Statehouse.

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, the first Democrat to enter the race for governor, is backing a “red flag” law that would temporarily strip gun rights from people who show warning signs of violence and has pushed for more school security. But Schiavoni also  earned a B from the NRA in 2014.

Schiavoni is from the Youngstown area, where there are a lot of blue collar Democrats, many of whom voted for President Trump. He said he never met with the NRA and doesn’t sound interested in keeping a high rating.  

“I’m trying to move forward with bills that are going to protect kids, and pushing ideas when it comes to shutting down gun show loopholes and making sure we have mental health checks and talking about assault weapons bans and things that are going to be, in my opinion, moving toward a safer Ohio,” Schiavoni said.

And then there’s former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, who said he has bad news for Kucinich and others who want an all-out assault weapons ban.

“I just have to tell Dennis, talk all you want – that’s not going to work,” O’Neill said. “It’s just not going to work. It may get you elected, but it’s not going to work. The Second Amendment says you have a right to own weapons. But Justice Scalia said, it does not prohibit reasonable regulations.”

O’Neill hasn’t talked much about guns, but said he wants mandatory annual permits for owners of assault-style weapons, which they’d have to get in person from police, and seizure of those weapons if their owners commit crimes.